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From bots to Slack, all change for financial software

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At the annual conference of one of the world’s leading accounting software companies in Chicago this week, big names were overshadowed by future technologies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It’s not often that actors like Ashton Kutcher and Gwyneth Paltrow have to compete for attention with accountants, but they have an uphill task this week.

At the Sage Summit 2016 conference in Chicago this week, these big stars are due to participate in keynote events highlighting their ventures into high-tech start-ups in the next two days. However, the biggest news came in yesterday’s opening keynote address by CEO Stephen Kelly, who declared a technology revolution for entrepreneurs and business builders.

Kelly was under significant pressure to deliver: more than 15 000 entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprise owners make the Sage Summit the world’s largest gathering of entrepreneurs and business builders. He did not disappoint them.

After investing more than R2-billion in research and development over the past year, Sage unveiled a plethora of new mobile, social, chatbot and Internet of Things offerings. It also launched a new Sage Live page offering customers support, product offerings and pricing.

“With a more connected world comes new demands on our hero business builders,” said Kelly. “We are working on making concepts like the Internet of Things, machine learning, blockchain and data sciences into a reality for businesses, accountants and partners. This is way more than cloud and mobile-first. It’s designing and building technologies that truly power businesses, freeing entrepreneurs to grow and win.”

With, 100 000 accountants around the world using Sage software, along with numerous other user categories, much of the buzz was focused on the news that the company’s real-time accounting solution, Sage Live, will be integrated with cutting edge tools from sales software leaders Salesforce.

Sage also formally launched a new admin “bot” – an artificial intelligence conversation system built into instant messaging and social media platforms. Called “Pegg”, it is a smart assistant that uses conversation to let users track expenses via any  messaging app.

“Pegg removes the complexities and enables entrepreneurs to manage finances through conversation,” according to a company statement. “By digitising information at the point of capture, it takes away the pain from receipts and expenses, eradicating the need for paper and data entry. “

The first social platform to integrate Pegg is Slack, a social network geared towards enterprise messaging and collaboration. However, users can also work with it in Facebook Messenger, which has led the market in introducing chat bots.

“With the rise of freelancing and the sharing economy, the number of small businesses is growing exponentially,” says Kriti Sharma, Sage’s global director for mobile product management. “Most of these business owners use messaging apps, and with Pegg we aim to bridge the gap between these apps and work, rendering accounting invisible to the end user and making running a business as simple as sending a text.”

One of the most visionary evolutions of financial software was demonstrated by Sage’s executive vice president for product marketing, Jennifer Warawa. She showed how Sage Live can be integrated with TomTom Telematics for businesses with any size vehicle fleet to record mileage and automate expense reports – without any human intervention.

By running on the Salesforce platform, it can use existing integrations with third parties like TomTom WEBFLEET and make service journey data automatically available in Sage Live.

While this in itself may not set pulses racing, the vision behind such integration suggests a near future where administration takes second place to the more serious business of, well, running a business. It is not intended to put accountants out of business, but rather to allow them to play a more strategic role in business growth rather than focus on the “hard labour” of coordinating documents, logs, and other activity information.

The CEO’s keynote also saw some hard-hitting criticism of the support structures provided by officialdom. For one thing, it emerged that South African businesses are not alone in feeling that government lets them down. Kelly unveiled research which showed American entrepreneurs expressing high dissatisfaction with the support they get from the US Government.

In case there was any lingering suspicion of the Summit being a mere public relations exercise, he also weighed in on the ineffectual role of official events like the World Economic Forum in Davos, which he dismissed as being “out of touch”.

This echoes the views expressed earlier this year by Anton Van Heerden, managing director of Sage in South and Southern Africa. In a post on LinkedIn, he wrote that  important voices were being excluded from the conversations taking place at Davos: “those of the risk-takers, entrepreneurs and small business owners who are increasingly the major drivers of wealth and job creation around the world.”

As a result, Kelly announced this week, Sage would introduce a series of policy events around the world to focus on the real needs of entrepreneurs.

It is a risky move to take Sage beyond the world of software and into the realm of policy. However, it is clear that the quest to remain relevant to customers goes beyond technology.

  •  Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Naspers feeds into Latin America’s tech funding

Movile will get $400m funding from the SA-based technology investment giant for iFood expansion.

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Movile is to receive US$500-million in funding for iFood in the largest tech funding in Latin America to date. Naspers and Innova Capital have committed to invest $400m of new capital into Movile to use for further investment in iFood, the leading online food delivery platform in Latin America, of which Movile is a majority shareholder.  

Movile and Just Eat have already invested $100m in iFood during 2018. iFood’s extraordinary growth and the vast market opportunity in Brazil and more broadly in Latin America has driven the increased investment commitment. 

iFood’s monthly orders in Brazil have fed more than 9 million customers in the past twelve months, 16 times the nearest online competitor, in terms of daily active users. This means its partner restaurants are serving the biggest population of consumers ordering food in Latin America. iFood has 50 000 restaurant partners and uses 120 000 couriers. 

The increased investment commitment from Naspers, Innova and Movile is expected to accelerate growth, speed up product development and innovation, and fuel geographical expansion for iFood across the region. The company’s vision is to gain deeper knowledge of consumers through artificial intelligence technology, to personalise the food delivery experience – and at a reduced price, because of improved logistics. 

“Movile is very fortunate to have long-term investors who have supported us for the past decade to help achieve our goal of transforming the lives of more than one billion people and thus we are able to continually back iFood to ensure it remains the market leader,” said Fabricio Bloisi, Movile CEO. 

“Our entire ecosystem of companies is focused on allocating resources and energy towards our one billion people goal. iFood is leading the way, fueling unprecedented growth through its innovative technology platform, providing consumers, couriers and restaurants with the best experience in food ordering and delivery.”  

Larry Illg, CEO of Naspers Ventures, said: “iFood has established itself as a technology leader in Latin America and its success stacks up with some of the most innovative food companies that are leading regions in North America, Europe and Asia.  We have been impressed by their execution in Brazil and remain committed to backing the company on its path to transform the entire food chain to better serve consumers.” 

Online food delivery is experiencing massive expansion globally. According to latest reported results, Grubhub grew daily average orders 39% year-on-year, reaching over 416 000 orders per day. In Latin America, iFood has reached 390 000 orders per day just in Brazil in the last week of October, compared with 183 000 in October 2017, representing 109% growth.

iFood CEO Carlos Moyses said: “We want our consumers to have an amazing delivery experience from the moment they order their food to the moment it arrives. Our partners – the restaurants and delivery fleet – make that happen by living our purpose of improving people’s lives using our services.

“iFood exists for our customers and, with an increased investment commitment of this size, we will be able to build out our state of the art technology platform, and increase our courier and restaurant partners to even better serve our current and future customers in Latin America.”

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Hide your sheep, Spyro is reigniting

Spyro, the iconic purple dragon that entertained living rooms worldwide in the late ‘90s, is making a return with the release of Spyro Reignited Trilogy.

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Spyro Reignited Trilogy introduces players to a fully remastered game collection with a re-imagined cast of characters, animations, environments, new lighting and recreated cinematics—all inHD.  Now fans can explore more than 100 lush environments filled with new detail, that brings the Dragon Realms and Avalar to life . The trilogy is available for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro and the family of Xbox One devices from Microsoft, including the Xbox One X.

South African distributors Megarom provided the followjng information:

In Spyro Reignited Trilogy, lead developer Toys For Bob is giving fans an all scaled-up version of the original three Spyro games that started it all, Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and Spyro: Year of the Dragon, but with a modern-day feel that makes it fresh and fun for today’s player. Adding to the fun, voice actor Tom Kenny is returning to the franchise as the voice of Spyro in all three remastered games. Longtime fans will be treated to Toys For Bob’s reimagined version of the classic soundtracks, in addition to an all-new title-screen theme from original soundtrack composer Stewart Copeland.

Additionally, the new game brings an in-game audio feature that allows players to switch between the original and the newly remastered soundtracks, for those who want a more classic gameplay experience. Players can simply fly in to the “options menu” at any time during gameplay, unleash their preferred nostalgic or scaled-up groove, and glide right back into the Spyro action without losing saved data.

“It’s been a real pleasure to bring back one of most iconic video game characters of all time through the Spyro Reignited Trilogy,” said Paul Yan, Co-Studio Head at Toys For Bob. “We’ve poured everything we’ve got into making sure every detail was done right to deliver a great Spyro experience for fans. We hope players will have as much fun revisiting the Spyro world and characters as we did remastering them.”

In the road up to the official release of Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Activision Publishing, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, created a first-of-its-kind, life-sized, fire-breathing and talking Spyro Dragon drone. The drone took off from “Stone Hill” castle near New York City, spreading his wings across the U.S. to explore the cities and iconic landscapes that resemble levels and themes from the original Spyro games. As part of the tour, the Spyro drone chased sheep, fired up some BBQ and delivered an early copy of Spyro Reignited Trilogy to fellow O.G. and entertainment icon, Snoop Dogg. Highlights from the Spyro drone’s delivery to Snoop Dogg can be found here.

“Fans have been asking Activision to bring Spyro back for some time now. The response to Spyro Reignited Trilogy has been great thus far, and we’re absolutely thrilled that we’re able to continue to reimagine and reinvigorate some of the most iconic videogames and characters of all time with our remastered experiences,” said Steve Young, Chief Revenue Officer at Activision. “With this year being the 20th anniversary of Spyro, there’s no better time to pay homage to everyone’s favorite purple dragon.”

The Spyro community is invited to geek out and elevate their fandom even further through the elite global partnerships from the Activision Blizzard Consumer Products Group (ABCPG). Collaborations with Funko, Traly Pins, Exquisite Gaming, KidRobot, USAopoly, Trends International, Rubber Road, and Changes have created new avenues for fans to share their love for the return of Spyro, the original roast master. Spyro consumer products across apparel, collectibles, figurines and more are now available at retailers worldwide. Fans can also take advantage of the GameStop exclusive Spyro TOTAKU Collection.

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